It can be very easy to get completely lost in numbers, stats and prices when looking to purchase a drone the first time. Just know that you are not alone. It is thought that approximately one million unmanned aerial vehicles were purchased last Christmas and the numbers are growing.
Luckily for you, I’m going to walk you through exactly what you need to consider when buying a drone.
The first thing you need to consider is what you are going to use a drone for.
I’m going to assume since you’re reading this here, you want to use your drone for photography. Is this going to be your first drone or are you somewhat of a professional that likes to fly drones on a regular basis? This will have a big input on what you should be buying and for what price. Also, think about whether you will be using it mainly outside or whether you want it for inside as well.
The main things that you need to consider when it comes to drones are quality, features, value and finally, ease of use.
When looking at a drone, make sure that you take all four factors into consideration and decide how they apply to you.
Once you have considered all of the above, prices will vary depending on your answers.
Features to Look for in your Drone
- Flight time – Flight time can vary between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on the drone type and size of it’s battery. Most beginner drones have flight times of around 5-10 minutes. Intermediate and advanced drones will feature longer flight times, but you’ll probably want some extra batteries to swap out, thus multiplying your overall flight time. Some drones will signal you when the batteries are getting low, while others require you to simply keep track of the time in flight.
- Camera – I’m sure you understand the importance of this extremely important part of your drone. With cheaper drones, the cameras are often an add-on part, and it’s up to you if you want to install it or not. Leaving it off while learning to fly will give you a few more minutes of flight time, due to its lower overall weight. The cameras on cheaper drones do not take as good a photo as the higher priced units. Some of the aerial photography/videography drones have their own attached-to-the-body cameras, while others are GoPro (or other action camera) ready. Depending on the manufacturer, there are numerous features which could be fine-tuned, such as the ISO, the shutter speed, the size of the photo/video and much more.
- Headless mode – Every drone has a front side and a back side. When you and your drone are facing the same direction, pressing the left directional stick of your remote controller should fly your drone to the left. But when your drone turns around and its front is facing you, the controller and your drone front are in the opposite direction. Meaning pressing left will actually send the drone to your right, and vice versa. This could be very confusing, especially for the non-experienced flyers. But when Headless mode is activated, this problem is easily solved – as long as you turn on the mode when the remote and the front of the drone face the same direction, it will always go to the left when you press left and it will always go to the right when you press the right stick.
- Return home function – The return home function does exactly what you think it does – it returns your drone to its home point with the press of a button. This feature works great in situations when you lose the aircraft from your sight, you lose control of it and you panic or simply want to return the drone where it took off. However, beware that the “Return Home” on a more expensive GPS-enabled drone is not the same as the lower priced $50 toy drones.
- 3-axis gimbal – This device that connects your camera with the drone body keeps the camera leveled by pivoting around it.The gimbal stabilizes motion in 3 axes: pitch, roll, and yaw. For any serious photography from a drone, this is a “must have”. This helps maintaining a stable footage throughout your flight, no matter the drone’s direction and tilt.
- Range – This important feature will limit from how far you can control your drone. This might be between 50-100 meters for beginner quadcopters up to 5000 meters for more advanced units.
- Spare parts – Yep, you’re likely going to crash your drone a time or two and will want to make sure you can buy spare parts for it. You may need to replace your propellers, motors, landing gear or even the camera. So make sure there are spare parts available for the drone you choose.
A Few Legal Issues to Consider
With the growing popularity and relative newness of flying unmanned aircraft, laws and regulations are evolving. While the below is accurate at the time of this writing, you’ll want to check your local jurisdictions for regulations that might apply.
- In the US, drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds will require you to register it.
- In most cases you’ll be limited to flying 5 miles away from airports without prior notification to airport and air traffic control unless you have the proper waivers. Download the FAA’s B4UFLY Smartphone App, which provides real-time information about airspace restrictions and other flying requirements based on your GPS location.
- If you’re flying your drone for fun and recreational use only, there are no pilot requirements. However, if you’re flying for commercial use (e.g. providing aerial surveying or photography services) or flying incidental to a business (e.g. doing roof inspections or real estate photography), you’ll be required to obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the many options available to you, use it to your advantage instead. Once you have it clear it in your mind what you want, you will find many options that range from less than $100 to $2000+. You can also find drones that will stay in the air around 5 minutes compared to those that will last 25 minutes.
Drones come in all shapes and sizes; why not spend some time looking in our Drone Buyers Guide for the perfect one for you?